Every president receives a title of scientific merit, even Bolsonaro – Brazil – Tecnoblog

On Thursday (5), Jair Bolsonaro awarded himself the highest title of the National Order of Scientific Merit: the Grand Master. It’s something that should be commonplace – this honor has existed since the days of Itamar Franco – but it drew attention because the president has been making several attacks on scientific consensus, and promoting medicines without proven efficacy against COVID-19. Worse: he gave the commander’s award to two scientists who disagree with his opinions, but ended up backing down.


Despite defying science countless times, Bolsonaro is Grand Master, an honor given to all presidents since 1993 (Image: Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil)

Presidents receive honor since 1993

Media outlets and opposition politicians were stunned that Bolsonaro published a decree in the Official Gazette of the Union decorating himself for scientific merit. However, the president is following a rule that has been in effect for nearly three decades.

The National Order of Scientific Merit was created in 1993, in a decree signed by Itamar Franco, to honor Brazilians and foreigners who gained prominence for their contributions in the area of ​​science or technology.

The decree has undergone modifications over the years, but one of the rules has remained basically unchanged: the President of the Republic is always the Grand Master of the Order; and the Minister of Science and Technology is always the Chancellor.

For example, in 2015, then-President Dilma Rousseff made some changes as she gave the honor to the highest office in the Republic, but made no changes to the title of Grand Master. And in another decree, Michel Temer named himself grand master of the order.

Bolsonaro vs. science

However, Bolsonaro is known for his antiscience statements. During the pandemic, while Brazilians were suffering from the effects of the disease, he promoted medicines without proven efficacy against COVID-19 on several occasions — weekly lives, speeches and speeches to supporters.

One of the drugs without proven efficacy propagated by the president was chloroquine. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that the drug is not effective in treating the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Among the main side effects is cardiac arrhythmia, which can lead to death.

On another occasion, the current Grand Master of Science mentioned that Brazilians “dive into the sewer and nothing happens”, in an allusion to the COVID-19 infection. More recently, the president said he has given up taking the vaccine against the disease, claiming he has a high level of antibodies after being infected in August 2021. Again, the president’s statement is disputed by epidemiologists and infectologists.

Bolsonaro vs. scientists

Within the decree itself, Bolsonaro created another controversy: he gave honors to scientists and health professionals who disagreed with his position… but decided to revoke it.

The Chief Executive had granted the title of Commander to several people, including Marcos Vinícius Larceda, an infectious disease physician at Fiocruz Amazônia; and Adele Schwartz Benzaken, director of Instituto Leônidas & Maria Deane, at Fiocruz.

Lacerda was one of the members of the research team that, in April 2020, conducted a study to measure the effectiveness of chloroquine in critically ill patients with COVID-19. One of the findings is that high doses of the drug in severe cases can lead to death.

Adele Benzaken was fired from the Ministry of Health before the pandemic, in January 2019. The researcher was director of the STI/HIV-Aids and Viral Hepatitis Department of the Health Surveillance Department, and was dismissed because of a booklet made for trans men, as he told the newspaper Or Balloon in season. The folder said the dismissal “was an understanding between the two parties.”

This Friday (5), Bolsonaro revoked the parts of the decree that mention Lacerda and Benzaken.

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